Unbind us, Lord! Let us go free!
The Fifth Sunday of Lent
In today’s gospel, John the Evangelist has still another incredible that the church uses to show us how Jesus wants to be for us: He is the One who unbinds our shackles / calls us forth from the tombs of our lives and offers us new and risen life!
When? For all eternity – Yes! But also right here, right now. (Also you can see the two previous posts for the first two stories in this trilogy by scrolling down after you’ve read this post “A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman (John, Chapter 4) and “You light up my life” John, Chapter 9). There are marvelous lessons for believers and unbelievers alike in this trilogy.)
The pictures I use here are of a statue interpreting the unbinding of Lazarus that rests on the grounds of the Diocese of Lake Charles Retreat Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana. My spiritual director had me meditate on it while I was on retreat there in 2010. I titled it: “Addictions.”
As you read this story, try to see it through your own eyes and experience the story for yourself Get into it. It’s filled with emotion. I’ve added a few reflections of my own along the way and use substantial excerpts from the NRSV version to carry the story along. If you’d like to read the complete text first, here’s the link: John 11: 1-45.
Now take a moment to prepare yourself for this meditation. Go to a quiet place and clear your mind from distractions. Close your eyes for a while and focus on your breathing. When you’re ready, begin reading . . . .
NOW a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”
I can muse that You, Jesus, often went to the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. You probably went there to “let your hair down.” To get away from the crowds; even Your chosen and sometimes unruly band of Twelve didn’t ”get” what You were about. I muse that You sometimes felt quite alone even among your friends. But You really seem to enjoy the three siblings’ company. You could be who You were, without pressure, without demand. You could simply “be.” And Your three friends were very comfortable with You as well. . . . . .(Remember the story in Luke 10:38-42 when he came for dinner with them?)
Lord, help us to find friends who accept us as we are — warts and all — with whom we don’t have to pretend to be someone ~ something we’re not. Where we can bind our wounds and be encouraged to become whole. I thank you for the people in my life who are “there” for me when I need them.
But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.
Lord, You have enabled me to realize, that illness and difficult times can end in glory for those who persevere / who trust / who are willing to understand what such crosses will teach us. . . . . . (Bethany is often used as a symbol of a place of retreat, of refreshment and renewal.)
Lord, help us to see the glory hiding in the dark places of our lives. . . .
Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Lord, help us to grow into patience — to wait for God’s time for things.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” [ . . . . ] “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
How many of us have fallen asleep to the reality of our lives? Jesus, help me to WAKE UP! and really see and accept the reality of my life — both the good and the bad.
[. . . .] When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Lord Jesus, I hear you saying this to ME. As a priest I have consoled many who wept at the death of their own loved ones. And throughout my own long years of illness, these words consoled me. Somehow, I realized that, even on this side of the grave, You would grant me new and risen life. And You are doing that RIGHT NOW!
She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
Yes, Lord, You are the One who is my Friend / my Beloved / my Redeemer / my Shepherd and Companion on my life’s journey!
When Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
In those few words I feel her grief, Lord . . . and a bit of a reprimand: “Why weren’t You here?”
How often as a priest have I heard people say that! “Why weren’t you here, Father?”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
Jesus, as I (we) reflect on this story, help us to feel / to sense / to realize that it is your humanness / Your humanity that saves us: You are one like us!
He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to weep.
Lord, You always weep with and for Your friends . . . and the folks who do not know You are a friend waiting for them.
You cry — even now — over the state of our world. I know. I often cry with you!
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Jesus, I praise You that You were not afraid to express Your love to other men, especially to the young beloved disciple who leaned on Your breast at the Last Supper (John 21:20).
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus, You always worked in an atmosphere of hostility. There were always people around who hated You because you loved. And taught others to follow You in heroic love.
In these later days of Lent as we approach the celebration of Your passion, death and resurrection — this year — may we be soberly aware that it was the religious leaders who had you killed. Something for us to ponder even today.
Are we for You or against You? Are we on the side of Love or Hate?
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus, I know many who have heavy stones laying across devastated lives. Particularly my friends who lie in the tomb of addiction. I know families who weep and worry over the death of the spirits of their loved ones.
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
There are always consequences to devastated lives. They’re always hard to repair.
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
. . . . but Jesus reminds us to always have hope in the ones we love — even when matters seem hopeless.
So they took away the stone. And Jesus [. . . . .] cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said to them,
UNBIND HIM AND LET HIM GO FREE.”
I have come to realize, Lord, that coming out of our tombs is only the beginning of recovery. Resurrection takes a long time. We need others to unbind us. And I thank you for the people who have helped to unbind me — especially You, Lord!
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
May we come to deepen OUR faith in You, Lord, and realize that as we stay close to You, You will unbind us and let us go free to new and risen life and love!
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!
Now here is the song “He will raise you up on eagle’s wings” by Michael Joncas sung at my parents’ funeral and so many others at which I had the honor of presiding. We Catholics truly believe that we will live forever! And for our young people, here is Queen singing Who wants to live forever? Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
This post is dedicated to the young men for whom I’ve prayed and their parents: May they be unbound from the shackles of their addictions and have new and risen life.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved. From the oremus Bible Browser http://bible.oremus.org v2.2.5 2 March 2008.
I can see! You light up my life!
The Fourth Sunday of Lent – The story of the man born blind
John the Evangelist is inviting us to ask ourselves: Who are the blind ones? Who are those who see?
If you have time, read the entire story for yourself John Chapter Nine.
It’s an important question for any of us who choose to lead a spiritual life or even survive when everywhere the truth is often folded / mutilated / stapled in obfuscated doublespeak.
The movie The Matrix portrayed us as blind to reality. We don’t want to really see or know what’s going on as long as our private little worlds are not disturbed.
When we ~ um ~ “converse” with people online, we often don’t really know whether they’re presenting themselves for who they are or giving a false persona.
Some people only see the appearances of things. Many of us don’t have the eyes to see the unseen and the unknowable.
Much advertising today only shows handsome young men and women.
What do you see when you wander around town?
Are you on the lookout for the truly beautiful?
Like Cindy, the bag lady I found sitting in the park knitting one day in the park next to the main library in downtown Lauderdale.
A while back I took a double take when I noticed her on a cold morning just outside the library door. She caught my eye because she was polishing her nails a luminous pink. She had on a fuzzy cardigan to match. I backed up ten steps to say hello.
What impressed me the most was the twinkle in her eye, her cheerful demeanor and her ready smile.
I wasn’t nearly as self-possessed when I was homeless for a short time in the early Eighties. It ain’t pretty. I was scared to death.
What DO you see with those eyes of yours, my friend?
Are you able to see the truly Beautiful People, like Cindy?
Can you distinguish between the real and the unreal / the true and the false / the True Self from the false self .
In the first reading the Lord teaches Samuel, his prophet not to judge by appearances, but to SEE BEYOND / to see into.
“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance
but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:10.)
The story John is narrating here is that “They” didn’t / couldn’t see beauty in Jesus either! (The “They” who attack and accuse Jesus in this story are the religious establishment of the day.) He holds his own with them; doesn’t move — He’s confident / courageous / fearless / knowing full well what they’re going to do to him in the end.
We need to realize that “t’is ever thus!” We must not allow the hypocrites — or as I call them the “lipocrites” — to blind us from the beauty that is available to anyone who does have eyes to see.
No! Don’t excuse yourself from finding God or love or a loving community of faith just because there are some who don’t get it.
Jesus healed the blind man;
he let the sensuous woman wash his feet with her hair;
hung out with sinners and the tax collectors whom the lipocrites got off on thinking they were better than;
told people to “Love one another as I have loved you”;
let the youngest disciple lean on his breast during the last supper;
kept his mouth shut when he was accused;
and, most importantly, simply did what his Father told him to do: be obedient (stayed on message) until the very end.
And they killed him for that.
Just remember, if you choose to preach this gospel, if you tell people to see the beauty — the Christ — in the person in front of you, whether that one be a bag lady / homosexual / fallen down drunk / drug addict / mentally ill, crazy man / Muslim / Republican / Democrat / Jew / Catholic / atheist / pro-lifer / pro-choicer / Martian / immigrant / anybody who thinks differently than you, they probably will crucify you too or cast you out of their life, stop their ears to anything you say or do — just as the guys in this Gospel story John tells so dramatically did today.
God sees differently, you know. He doesn’t divide. God unifies. God made us all as his children. God sustains all of us in the present moment.
God loves us all. No matter what.
All he wants us to do is accept his love.
And so, ask yourself, dear friend, can you see your world and the people in it — family / friend / foe — with God’s eyes?
Can you see yourself with God’s eyes, my friend?
Many people think they’re a piece of junk and so they pretend to be somebody else.
But God made you just as you are.
He wants you to see YOURSELF as he sees you.
When you can do that, then you will change.
The good in you will increase; the not-so-good will fall away because God himself will do the transforming.
The man who was blind was able to see that. That was the second gift of sight Jesus gave him –
not just the ability to see trees and people and flowers but to see with the eyes of the heart.
Why? Because Jesus did more than give him his sight.
He touched him.
He drew him close.
He treated the man as a person.
And that, very simply, is all Jesus wants us to do: Treat one another as a PERSON! Someone just like you.
Try it today. With your honey who treated you like vinegar this morning. Your hyper kids. Your nasty neighbor. Your lousy boss. A bedraggled stranger on the street.
That’s the message of this gospel story.
You are truly My Light.
You help me see the beauty in myself and all around me.
My life and my world are SO different because of You!
I love You. I delight in You.
I never know what to expect when You’re around. I can SEE!
You have given me true sight,
the ability to see into things.
To have the courage to look at My Reality — good and not-so-good.
To see the beauty in the people in my life instead of their faults.
To look at the reality of the world around us, even if we sense a retribution is coming.
And I praise You for you have given me the ability to use the awesome gifts our heavenly Father has granted me so that I may help others see beauty as well.
That’s what I want to do with my life from this moment on, Lord!
I want to help people see their own beauty!
To call it forth from them.
To walk around this world and see the beauty our Father has created all around me.
I love You, Lord.
You are My Light!
I believe that You truly are the Light of the World!
And St. Paul in today’s second reading sums it up:
“Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:8-14.)
Now here’s Debbie Boone’s song “You light up my life” I always think of Jesus when I hear it.
A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman
We’re in an important series of Sunday scriptures used to help catechumens (those preparing to meet the Lord in baptism). In using this series of three stories (1st) The Woman at the Well, (2nd) The Man Born Blind (next Sunday) and (3rd) The Raising of Lazarus, the Church all through its history asks John the Evangelist to interpret for us how he sees Jesus and his significance for us.
This Sunday’s gospel (March 3rd, 2013) has Jesus and his buddies passing through Samaritan territory.
Why not take a moment to read the entire fascinating story? (JOHN 4:1-42) To get back to this page, on the top of your computer screen, click on the < arrow pointing to the left. and it’ll bring you right back here.
The hour’s about noon and he’s tired, hot, dusty, sweaty (I presume) and thirsty.
He sits down by Jacob’s well but has no bucket; the cool stuff is right down there but he can’t access it.
Along comes a woman with a bucket and he’s about to break all kinds of taboos: One, Jews don’t associate with Samaritans. Two, men don’t speak to women in public. She is shocked by his shattering both of these impenetrable barriers and is quite flustered. And three, she’s not exactly a woman of high moral standing.
He soon puts her at ease by asking her for a drink; as the great Teacher he is, he reverses the symbol and says he will give her “living waters so she will never be thirsty again.”
She’s intrigued and begins to relax into his accepting, easy manner. (We forget that He was probably a handsome 31 year old.) In fact, she quickly feels such total acceptance that she trusts him to touch her ~ on the inside.
The conversation cuts to the quick very quickly. Jesus says she has had “five husbands and the one she’s living with now is not her husband.”
Jesus has a true pastoral manner that, very sadly, so many of my friends who have left the church did not receive from a priest or their family or a community when they needed it the most.
One of the new “Mysteries of Light” has us meditate on “the proclamation of the kingdom.” At some point, I realized that I must learn how to proclaim (share ) the Good News not over the heads of masses of people but to share it as Jesus did here in a stranger’s town — one person at a time.
I ache inside when I realize so many have turned a deaf ear to the church because we priests and bishops often do not match our words with the lives we lead or because we use harsh and condemning words that push people away and cauterize their souls instead of drawing them close.
Through my own life experience I have learned to do as Jesus did with the woman at the well. He befriended her first. He treated her as a person. He spoke kindly. He did not condemn her but in revealing his own vulnerability (his own thirst) he brought her up to his own level.
In my videographer’s eye I can see the two of them sitting close to each other on the wall of the well, gently conversing as Jesus listens to the story of her brokenness. Now that’s the way — the only legitimate way, in my eyes — to preach the gospel — in mutual regard and respect, in mutual vulnerability.
If we keep yelling at people in harsh words we will be just tuned out. St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said, “Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”
I am fiercely pro-life; I don’t even want to kill the ants on my kitchen counter. And we have a beautiful truth to share — the sacredness of all life and the sacredness, the holiness of the ground beneath our feet — but we can only get that message across when we get down with people’s hurt and need, without judging; to cry with them and hug them instead of yelling at them. Jesus would never do that! The only people he yelled at where the people who justified themselves and condemned others.
I repent of the times that I have been harsh with others. And those times have been many. And I pray that, day by day by day, Jesus, the gentle One, would help me to be more and more gentle and nurturing and respectful to those I meet whose lifestyles and values are different than mine. For I know that if I want to have any influence on them, I need to let them get close to me and let them know that, despite everything, they have a place in my heart.
The story of the woman at the well ends by telling us that this wonderful human being in Whom-God-shown-through (Gospel of the Transfiguration — Second Sunday of Lent) broke down the wall of prejudice and hostility between Jews and Samaritans so dramatically that the whole town welcomed him and he and his buddies stayed for two days.
Now THAT, dear friends, is the Jesus I know and love. And want to be like.
I give thanks that I have had mentors who drew me close
in whose loving embrace I received non-judgmental love
and through whose example I myself desire to love without judgment.
In my own thirst to receive the faith of those I meet and care for
may I always bring them to You, the spring of living water
so that the water you give them “will become IN THEM
a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”
So be it! AMEN!
Here’s Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Waters.
Years ago when I first heard this song, I thought Jesus was / is the bridge!
I’ve been to the mountain
The Second Sunday of Lent
Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire.
For the full text of the day’s Mass readings go to the link provided here. When you are ready to return to this blog page, click on the little arrow (<) on the top of your computer that points to the left.
Now click here for the Mass readings, if you’d like to read them.
It’s is a great story. It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert being tempted by the devil. Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.
Peter, James and John are genuinely high in this morning’s gospel story. First, they’re on a mountain – that’s high already, and secondly, they see Jesus transfigured before them in dazzling glory. This is a wonderful spiritual high , lest you get the wrong idea. For Peter, James and John, this is as good a high as it gets – seeing the Son of God in his true glory. They’re blown away.
Peter, speaking for all of them, wants to stay there, at least, a good while longer. But it doesn’t happen. They have to come back down from the mountain. We might say they had to return to reality, but that’s not accurate. The vision of Jesus in brilliant light was reality too. It wasn’t imaginary; chemicals didn’t artificially produce it.
We experience wholesome highs, too. A particularly rewarding achievement, an especially fulfilling moment in a relationship–a time when, for whatever reason, the world is bright, life makes sense, and most of the pieces of our lives fit together.
It can happen in our spiritual life, too. A retreat or some other spiritual experience can send us soaring. At such moments, we may feel the immense joy of God’s love and affirmation intensely. But the experience inevitably fades. We “come back to reality.” But, again, that’s not accurate. The spiritual high was also reality; it becomes folded into the rest of our life, like salt that enlivens the taste of food.
Imagine that you are in Jesus’ company, along with Peter James and John as they are climbing the mountain. You are about to have your own mountain top experience.
Perhaps you’ve lived in a valley all your life or are pretty much confined to the view that four walls bring you.
In the valleys, your view is limited; you cannot see either the sunrise or the sunset. On a mountain top, your horizon gets expanded. You can look far into the distance and see the sunrise, if you are looking east or the sunset if you are looking west. Life in a valley can be boring, dull, monotonous. Life as viewed from a mountain top can be exhilarating and exciting.
You may never had a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had. Even ONE mountain top experience — one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.
Any close encounter with God can be life-changing. I remember one I had in 1976.
I was making a private retreat. My retreat director assigned me a scripture on which to meditate. I was to take a full hour to reflect on the account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert from the gospel of Mark. Nothing came the first time. Nor the second. The third one was the charm. One brief experience (it lasted only about 15 minutes) has changed my relationship with Jesus forever. I had the experience that Jesus was quite close to me; in the meditation I got close enough to wrestle with him. Yes, wrestle with him! If that happened in my mind’s eye then it was and is possible to think of myself very often as that close to Jesus (I felt quite certain that I did not conjure it up because I never would have dreamed of myself in that situation with our Lord.)
How about you — have you ever had a peak experience? Have you had more than one? Then you understand what I am talking about. You know that such moments can be life-changing.
What does it take to have a peak experience?
It can happen just in the faculty of our imagination — that special place inside us where we can be led to new and wonderful things, things never seen before.
It requires openness–a sense of adventure, a willingness to leave our comfortable place to climb a mountain.
Now imagine that you are accompanying Jesus and Peter, James and John as they climb the mountain…… And you see Jesus become radiant. Dazzling. Incredibly beautiful in his appearance– his face, his hands his hair, his robe.
And then hear the Voice from above proclaim to you and the others:
“This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
How would you feel? Would you be afraid? Would you be filled with joy? Would you fall to the ground in worship?
Let’s focus on one point of the story.
Jesus received a tremendous affirmation from his heavenly Father who was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
This was a moment of affirmation for Jesus. Surely he needed it; he could feel the weight of his mission upon his shoulders. He had an intuition that his life would enter upon tremendous suffering and death. He also received affirmation from Peter James and John, and they, in turn, were affirmed that their choice to follow him was essentially correct.
How about you — how often do you receive affirmation?
How often does your spouse praise you for something that you did or for who you are? How often do your children praise you? Probably not very often. How often do you sense God is affirming you?
Affirmation is very important. It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me.
Athletes get lots of affirmation and praise especially the ones who get gold medals but maybe not so often for the rest of us.
I used to receive a lot of affirmation when I was in a parish. These days my dog Shoney gets all the praise and attention.
As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come. When they come, embrace them. Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do. Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.
I pray for God’s affirmation for each of you. Hear him say: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.
Now give someone a really good affirmation this afternoon. And, before you go, here’s our traditional Catholic hymn Holy God We Praise Thy Name as you’ve never heard it before. Click here.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust